Even if your knee doesn’t spend the afternoon singing to warn you of impending rain, you’re not the only person who thinks there could be a link between weather and body pain. For years, people have claimed that their muscle & joint pain becomes worse in cold weather. But is there any truth to this?
What Do the Studies Say?
Over the years, many studies have been conducted that look at a variety of factors that could potentially influence the level of pain. These include temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and exposure to sunshine.
There are a lot of difficulties in examining the correlation between cold weather and muscle/joint pain. Results often vary wildly from study to study, making it difficult to ascertain which methodologies were the most reliable. External factors such as diet, exercise, and overall health also make it difficult to establish a clear link. Additionally, as the patients’ pain is self-reported, measurements can be very subjective.
Some studies have found that different aspects of the weather can affect different pre-existing conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis was found to deteriorate in cold, humid atmospheres with high pressure; osteoarthritis worsened in humid, cold weather; fibromyalgia became more painful in cold, high pressure atmospheres; and the healthy control group experienced no increased discomfort.
What Does It All Mean?
With so many studies finding some link between temperature and joint/muscle pain, it appears that there is a causal effect involved. But scientists dispute exactly what causes this. A leading theory at the moment is that atmospheric pressure is the main factor in joint pain. This is because the atmospheric pressure could affect the gases and fluids inside the joints, causing them to change size. However, when patients were self-reporting their level of pain, the strongest correlation was between pain and humidity.
Another prevalent theory is that the cold weather makes people much less active and more likely to spend time indoors. The long stretch of remaining sedentary during the winter months means the muscles and joints stiffen and tighten up, making any level of pain experienced worse. If this is the case, it means that finding alternative physical activity for the colder months could prevent any pain from deteriorating.
While we do not yet have a full understanding of the link between weather and level of bodily pain experienced, science does suggest that such a link exists. Exactly who and what are likely to be affected remains unclear, but if you feel as though your pain is exacerbated in such conditions, a visit to your physiotherapist may help alleviate some of the extra pain.